DVD Article

Fosse in the '50s

Two Bob Fosse movie musicals on home video -- ''The Pajama Game'' and ''Damn Yankees'' showcase the choreographer's late-decade cool

Two Bob Fosse movie musicals on home video

The Pajama Game and Damn Yankees are well worth a rental just to see some of the quirkiest and cleverest musical numbers ever filmed. But keep your finger on that remote control and be ready to fast forward through the corny fluff.

Neither landmark musicals nor big turkeys, both movies are modest adaptations of pretty good Broadway hits of their day. (They are returning to video after being unavailable for some time.) What makes these particular movies a little special, though, are some super-cool, beat-generation numbers choreographed by Bob Fosse.

In Pajama Game, there's ''Steam Heat,'' a sultry, gender-bending number with Carol Haney in a curvy-cut business suit; plus, ''Hernando's Hideaway,'' with one slow-moving hipster after another appearing out of the darkness as each strikes a match to light a cigarette.

Fosse takes the nightclub setting even farther in Damn Yankees' ''Two Lost Souls,'' where a gorgeous, eerie club serves as a metaphor for hell itself. Some hot spot. Tab Hunter kneels on the floor, head bent and tossing in time, banging bongo beats on the seat of a chair, surrounded by a swaying coven of cats and chicks. There's something you don't see in Singin' in the Rain.

Aside from the music, both movies are unnervingly stagebound in their direction and scripts. Still, they offer some fun performances. Pajama Game gave Doris Day a strong feminist role in a movie musical — the system-bucking seamstress who puts her job before romance — and she manages to convey both sensitivity and will. In Damn Yankees, Tab Hunter is effective as the young baseball hero that an old baseball nut becomes after selling his soul to the devil.

If the corny plots bog you down, just scan to the musical numbers — especially Pajama Game's ''Hey There'' and ''Once-a-Year Day,'' and Damn Yankees' ''A Little Brains, a Little Talent'' and ''Whatever Lola Wants,'' all written by the under-recognized team of Richard Adler and Jerry Ross. So give Pajama Game a B- and Damn Yankees a C+.

Originally posted Mar 23, 1990 Published in issue #6 Mar 23, 1990 Order article reprints